Deborah Kass: Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History reopening after 2 years

Laura Smythe, Philadelphia Business Journal , April 25, 2022


The Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History will reopen next month, bringing the Old City institution back to life after more than two years. 


The museum, which is dedicated to exploring the Jewish American experience, will open on May 13. It will operate on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. A preview for members will take place May 6-8.

Admission will be free for the near future, subsidized by a $500,000 challenge grant from The Jane and Daniel Och Family Foundation. 


The cultural attraction has operated virtually since March 2020, when Philadelphia officials first implemented business restrictions to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 at the pandemic’s onset. 


Throughout the closure, much has taken place at the 101 S. Independence Mall E. museum. In November it changed its name from The National Museum of American Jewish History to the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History following an undisclosed donation from esteemed shoe designer and philanthropist Stuart Weitzman, an alumnus of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.


That donation enabled the institution to immediately buy back its 100,000-square-foot Old City building from trustee Mitchell Morgan, who purchased the space for $10 million and allowed the nonprofit to lease it for $1,000 per month while it navigated its voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection proceedings that started in March 2020.


The museum ultimately exited bankruptcy last September, settling $17 million of debt for $10.5 million. It had initially filed for bankruptcy protection with $30 million of debt, largely accumulated from the $150 million construction of its five-story, James Polshek-designed building.


During the closure an eight-figure endowment was also created via Weitzman’s donation and the museum expanded its events space by 40% to service demand when it returned. 

“We’re reopening The Weitzman with a bright future ahead of us,” CEO Misha Galperin said in a statement. “After operating virtually, we can’t wait to welcome visitors through our doors once again. Much has changed in our society and our world over the last two years, for both Jews and non-Jews, and we stand ready to do what we do best: educate, interpret, question, and inspire.”


Multiple special exhibitions will debut in tandem with The Weitzman’s reopening.

“The Future Will Follow the Past: An Exhibition by Jonathan Horowitz” will run through the rest of the year, examining the social issues the U.S. has grappled with since 2020 including antisemitism, racial violence, immigration, women’s rights, and LGBTQ+ rights. 


Another special exhibition, on display until at least April 2023, features artifacts from the Jan. 15 hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. The museum said the showing looks to spotlight antisemitism and the increasing danger that Jewish people face in the U.S. There is also a virtual special exhibition exploring military nursing during World War II. 


Additionally, a public art installation by Brooklyn artist Deborah Kass is also planned for 5th and Market streets along Independence Mall starting in May for at least a year. The bright yellow aluminum sculpture will show the word “oy,” also seen as “yo” from the other side. The 8-foot tall, 16-foot wide sculpture nods to the attention-grabbing phrase “yo”; the word “I” in Spanish; and “oy,” a popular Yiddish phrase used in Jewish and American culture.

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